Crafting a Social Media Policy that Protects – and Promotes – Your Company

Photo Credit: @papieru_

In today’s digital age, companies are faced with a dilemma. You want to use social media to promote your business, but you’re wary of letting employees post on the channels. Indeed, social media can be a double-edged sword. Business owners need to understand both the power – and the risk – involved.

Your employees are using social media. About three quarters of adults who go online participate in social networking. Most business owners recognize the risk involved – team members could share confidential information, misrepresent the company, or even speak negatively about their employer. And yet, 73% of companies don’t have a written social media policy.

There’s always a risk of an employee misusing (either intentionally or accidentally) a company social media account. Stories of these mishaps are frequently in the news. And if it can happen to McDonalds, it can happen to your company.

In 2005, Microsoft came out with this social media policy: “Be smart. Don’t be stupid.”

While many of us wish that sentiment were enough to govern responsible online behavior, today we have to go a bit further.

 

Set Realistic Goals

The best social media policies don’t try to prevent every tricky situation that could arise or lay out how each one should be handled. (Social media changes too fast for that approach to be effective.) Instead, they empower employees to work within guidelines, make good choices, and avoid pitfalls.

Don’t try to dictate every aspect of every social media site. Again, the sites change and your policy will be out of date quickly. You can implement separate written guidelines for each social media channel to cover the details, but your overall policy should focus on the big picture.

 

Structure Your Social Media Program

Your policy should clearly outline who will be communicating on social media on behalf of the company. If this responsibility will be handled by a team, ensure that everyone is on the same page about the type of content that will be used, and the brand voice and personality.

You will also need to decide whether social media content will need to be pre-approved. How does the approval process work? If approval is not necessary, be clear about guidelines for what should be posted – confidential or not yet released information about the company, your employees or your customers should never appear on social media.

Make sure to include guidelines on responding to customer questions and feedback. It’s a good idea to craft standard responses that can be issued in the case of common questions, and especially in the case of negative feedback. There should be a protocol for responding to angry or unhappy customers – it’s never a good idea to allow an employee to wing it, especially in an emotionally charged situation.

 

Outline After Hours Behavior

Many companies choose to have two social media policies. One for employees who post on social media as part of their job, and one for employees using social media in their personal lives.

Even if they are posting on their own social media accounts, chances are, it’s pretty easy to figure out where your employees work. How they present themselves online will reflect on your company. Your policy should alert employees that offensive or inappropriate comments, or illegal behavior that shows up on social media could affect their good standing at work. They must represent themselves according to the code of conduct of your company and brand.

Tread lightly when telling employees what they can and cannot post. It’s smarter to educate them about how their online behavior reflects on your company, and train them on best practices for professionals in their position.

Once you have crafted a social media policy for your company, it’s a good idea to have it reviewed by an attorney. There are certain legal aspects that need to be considered. The National Labor Relations Board has taken a firm stance on social media policies, saying that employers can’t prevent or suppress discussion about the terms and conditions at work.

 

Review, Train, Repeat

Once you have a written social media policy in place, you will need a plan for how to roll it out to employees and train them to follow your guidelines.

In the case of new employees, the social media policy can become part of the onboarding process. It can be reviewed at the same time as the company handbook or other policy documents.

The digital environment changes quickly and maintaining an up-to-date social media policy means reviewing it every 6 months to ensure that nothing needs to be updated or changed. This gives you an opportunity to revisit the policy with your team, and reinforce it.

By providing education for your staff about online best practices, you are preventing problems before they start.

 

Let’s not forget that there are many upsides to using social media at work. These channels can be used to market your company, launch a new product or build a community around your area of expertise.

As a business owner, you probably don’t have time to run them yourself, so you will need to trust your employees to post and respond without your guidance. A good social media policy is one that allows you to focus on other parts of your business.

 

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Orange County Social Media Consultant, Katie Wagner Social Media, Help with Social Media

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Katie is the President of KWSM. Before opening the agency, she spent more than 15 years as a journalist, working for CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN and National Public Radio. Katie works with clients across the country and is a popular public speaker. Read More